2018 Mazda MX-5 RF Limited Edition review

The Mazda MX-5 RF Limited Edition gives keen drivers a more capable car, but is it worth the spend?

There's a good reason the Mazda MX-5 is regarded as the world's best-selling two-seater sports car: it's a hoot. CarAdvice owns a 2016 example, in 2.0-litre GT roadster form, and there's not a soul here that doesn't enjoy it.

Certainly some yearn for more power, and it's not hard to make an argument for that, but clearly this 'shortcoming' hasn't held the car back from earning cult status as a global automotive icon.

Then there are the special editions. A couple of them have been turbocharged – one an Australian project and the other a factory offering – but most have been about styling, handling, or both. Such is the case with the 2018 Mazda MX-5 RF Limited Edition.

As the company confirmed in November last year – indeed, earlier, when it was unveiled in 2017 as the Japan market's Roadster RF RS – the model sold here as the RF Limited Edition is largely a driver's special.

Enhancements over the regular RF GT include gas-filled Bilstein dampers, four-piston Brembo calipers up front, 17-inch BBS alloy wheels, a strut brace, Recaro sports seats, and the front/side/rear under spoilers that usually form part of the $4217 Kuroi sports pack.

(A similar offering, called the Club BBS Pack, can also be had in the US but in roadster form. Australia's LE is an RF-specific model, and Mazda Australia says it currently has no plans to expand availability of the pack to the ragtop.)

Power is provided by the same 118kW/200Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that drives the regular RF, and you can have any transmission you want so long as it's manual. When asked about the absence of an auto, Mazda Australia marketing boss Alastair Doak said the intent of the RF LE is to serve enthusiasts. Nuff said.

To that end, availability is limited to 110 cars, and seven of those are the press cars made available to we monsters in the media. Those will eventually be sold too, so make sure you press for a good deal…

The RF Limited Edition carries a national drive-away price of $55,790, from a manufacturer's list price of $52,210. That's mighty expensive given the most expensive version of the regular RF GT manual – the 'RF GT with Black Roof' – is priced from $44,890 before on-road costs.

Still, here's another perspective on price: in 2013, the folding hard-top MX-5 Roadster Coupe, with a manual transmission, was priced from $49,885 before on-road costs. That isn't far off where we're at for this specced-up special.

Alright, Mike, enough with the rationalising; how does it go? Predictably, the LE presents itself as a tauter version of the regular RF, aimed at buyers that might like to sample some lightweight track work with an enhanced package that steers around the burden of aftermarket monkeying-about.

The standard package, while charming and able to live up to to the icon status of the MX-5 badge, could be described as a bit soft and roley-poley once you get stuck into it. Its limits aren't hard to uncover. But…

This Limited Edition model, with its upgraded suspension, gives the impression of a transformed car. It's firmer, and that's obviously valuable in its own right, but the Bilstein set-up still delivered a relatively compliant ride through the course of our scenic-route and somewhat bumpy-route drive from Melbourne Airport to the Yarra Valley.

Likewise, the increased stiffness brought through the usually optional strut brace (we ought to order this for our own CarAdvice MX-5) lets you hook in a little more confidently, with roll well controlled through the tight winding roads of Melbourne's deep outer east.

No surprise, the addition of those Brembos up front (Doak was oddly keen to note it's the first time we've seen red callipers from factory) adds even more certainty in late braking as you dive into successive corners. Discs are unchanged, though, using the same 280mm units from the regular RF.

Mazda says the potential for brake fade is reduced by up to 26 per cent, and there's a two-kilogram weight saving in the mix too. It's a series of hot laps at the track where you're most likely to appreciate the upgrade, but it proved a welcome addition nonetheless.

The Recaro seats, trimmed in Alcantara, might be the highlight in some respects. Stiffening the body and sharpening the dynamics are one thing, but if you're not held neatly in place then it's all much of a muchness. Although not aggressively bolstered, the additional support and firm sides do their job well while still ensuring comfort across our full day of driving.

Of course, while all of this is a treat, the RF LE doesn't escape the few foibles of its regular sibling. The design of the folding fastback roof, when in open-top mode, brings a bit more wind noise than with the roadster - which can seem surprising in a way - and there's still noticeable tyre roar coming into the cabin too. Such is the lightweight design of this car.

There's no rear-view camera, either, which can be frustrating in a car like this, when a head-check doesn't do much to improve your view of whether you're about to collect something behind you or beside.

Still, is the RF Limited Edition worth the money? I find I would be hard pressed to say yes, if this weren't a car aimed fairly explicitly at a very particular buyer.

After all, it's already easy to say most MX-5 buyers are of a pretty particular type, and it isn't the guy or girl considering an RF LE.

But, for those who do – for those 110 people Mazda reckons are looking for a manual-only RF they can more readily throw around the hills or the track without really sacrificing daily comfort, or their relationship with Mazda – the Limited Edition does feel like decent buying.

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